A Twitter Tribute
In case things go dark...
This post is for those of you that I’ve met over on Twitter.
For those who aren’t on Twitter, you’ve seen a few glimpses here of what goes on over there, but what you might not realize is that our Twitter universe is teetering on the brink of apocalypse.
Long story short, an evil (pseudo)genius who was mad about Twitter enforcing certain norms of truth and decency (see: the canceling of Babylon Bee) rashly decided to purchase Twitter for the tune of $44 billion, only to get cold feet, only to have to go through with the purchase (because lawyers). Since he took things over a few days back, things have gotten wild…blue checks sold for $8, fake accounts proliferating, and Eli Lilly’s profits plummeting some $17 billion in light of a fake tweet.
Some have already bailed. Those of us who remain feel like we’re in the orchestra on the Titanic. Helpless, doing what we do, holding together, watching the ship go down.
A friend reached out last night to ask me how I feel about the potential demise of Twitter. The truth is, it’s mixed. On the one hand, I’ll have more time for writing. My agent and publisher will appreciate that. On the other hand, if our destruction is indeed immanent, I sure will miss it here.
I joined Twitter back in 2015, with the goal of listening in on others’ conversations. A historian friend of mine had been trying to get me to join for a couple of years, and when I finally gave in, I immediately saw how useful it was—both in terms of learning from other scholars (and religion journalists), and also in terms of the opportunity it offered to listen in on conversations among evangelicals—especially the conservative white evangelical men I was studying. Until recently, the historical subjects I’d written about were long departed from this earth, so this kind of access was a real treat.
My initial goal was to remain mostly quiet. Anyone who knows me could have predicted that that wouldn’t last long. I remember a number of occasions where I was watching conversations among historians or evangelical pastors play out and thinking: “Really? Is nobody going to say something here?” At a certain point, I realized it would have to be me.
Very quickly discovered that I loved it. One of the things that had drawn me to academia was a love for the rigorous exchange of ideas, and Twitter provided endless opportunities for this. I engaged selectively, but deliberately. Rarely did I write with the intent of changing someone’s views, but instead I sought opportunities to make things visible, to surface differences, to expose weaknesses or inconsistencies, to hold others accountable.
I loved the give-and-take. I have more than a few critics on here, but I’ve tried to engage every good-faith critique I’ve seen, plus a whole lot of bad-faith critiques as well. Fortunately, it turns out that I have very thick skin. (Relatively little on here bothers me, as long as it’s not directed at my followers.)
At the same time, although going toe-to-toe with critics can be entertaining, at a certain point the interest starts to wear off—once the differences have been surfaced, bad faith actors revealed as such, and once honest dialogue descends irretrievably into mischaracterizations and character assassinations, there seems little point in going on.
What I haven’t tired of, however, are the vast majority of people I’ve met here—the many smart, thoughtful, and compassionate people I interact with and learn from every day. I know, Twitter doesn’t really have a reputation for this, but these people are here if you look for them.
Early on, I began a habit of following people who had good things to share, whether they had 5 followers or 50,000. I especially appreciated people who could bring more light than heat to conversations, including many over the years who patiently took on some of my own critics—crafting sophisticated historical or theological defenses or offering heartfelt personal testimonies. In my experience, the value of people’s contributions here has nothing to do with check marks, follower counts, or credentials. Sometimes anon accounts have offered the clearest the voices of truth.
If Twitter does go dark, this is what I’ll miss the most: the incisive, wise, and deeply good people I’ve met here. My favorite thing about traveling and speaking is meeting Twitter friends IRL. Virtual relationships are real ones, and we can pick up when we meet in person as though we’re old friends. (One of the most disappointing things for me is that when we do meet before or after an event, I usually have only a few minutes to chat; what I’d really like to do is go grab drinks and catch up on each other’s lives for a couple hours.)
If this is starting to sound like a eulogy, please recall that we’re the orchestra on the Titanic.
For my part, I don’t plan to jump, not yet. But I did request a download of my Tweets. I was never one to delete tweets, and it never bothered me when people dug up old tweets to try to use against me. Some of them I wrote precisely for that purpose (see: my tweet on Adorno and critical theory). But it would be a shame to lose a record of these past few years, because what’s happened on Twitter was never just virtual. Professionally, I consider it a part of the historical record. Personally, it was a big part of my pandemic life, of the life of Jesus and John Wayne, and, for so many of us, it helped us know that we weren’t alone in this. That’s why I’m sticking around, and if the ship does go down, I’ll be looking to regroup somewhere on the other side.
Until then, if things should suddenly go dark, I’m over on Instagram but not much (I like words more than pictures). I have a Facebook author page where I post semi-regularly, but I’m nicer there than I am on Twitter. And I’ll keep writing here on Substack. You can subscribe here to keep in touch that way:
(Right now I have comments on posts limited to paid subscribers just to keep the trolls at bay, but I’ll probably start using the new Chat feature and make that available to free subscribers when I do.)
In the meantime, I’ll keep hoping there’s a Carpathia on its way, and that it gets here before it’s too late.
I hope it says around. Still you've surely turned your five twitter talents into ten. Grateful for your example of goodness and leadership on hard to discuss topics.
I just love you. And I love Twitter. It’s been a really special place for me for all of those reasons you said. I really don’t want it to go away. Also, thanks for tweeting about my book that one time. 🥰 It meant a lot to me. I think you’re pretty amazing and hope to meet you IRL someday. 💗